More than a half century ago the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defined education and physical well-being as human rights to “be protected by the rule of law.” Although a significant number of national constitutions now include language that embraces a right to education, to health, or to both, disease and illiteracy remain pervasive throughout the world. Almost a billion individuals, a sixth of the international population, cannot read; similar numbers lack access to health care or to potable water. These deprivations cause physical harm, undermine a person's sense of autonomy, and subvert democratic possibilities. Against this dismal background, skeptics question not only the conceptual foundation of social and economic rights, but also their strategic value in fostering improvement for the disadvantaged and dispossessed.
The current project examines a specific aspect of this problem: the extent and efficacy of using national courts to enforce constitutionally based claims to health and to education services. Focusing on five nations – Brazil, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, and South Africa – the project offers an ambitious account of institutional practices based on cross-disciplinary, comparative case studies that combine quantitative with qualitative analysis. The countries under discussion have all codified social and economic rights in their national constitutions and in some places have enacted legislation to effectuate these provisions. The preceding chapters do not revisit the wisdom or legitimacy of extending constitutional protection to health or educational services.